Drink of the Week: The Horsecar

Image ALT text goes here.The holidays are coming but there’s a limit to how many sweet and rich ingredients a person can or should imbibe. That’s especially true if, like me, you’re thinking about appropriate holiday cocktails while dealing with a bit of a lifelong weight issue — these posts haven’t exactly helped! — and also trying to prepare for upcoming celebratory indulgences. So, while you’re definitely free to make the more traditional holiday cocktails I’ve offered in the past, this week, I took a complete break from the flipping excess of last week’s beverage and went with something simple, and only a little bit sweet.

The Horsecar is a drink of uncertain origin as far as I can tell, but Saveur tells us it was featured in a 1956 cocktail book issued by our men’s magazine forebears over at Esquire. It’s a definite relative of the various Perfect Manhattan-esque drinks I’ve been messing with lately, combining both sweet and dry vermouths. And, yes, it’s a near replica of the Jumbo — which, by absolute sheer coincidence, was the featured drink here just barely under two years ago by about three days. Still there’s one key difference. See if you can spot it.

The Horsecar

1 ounce rye whiskey
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 ounce dry vermouth
1 dash orange bitters
1 cocktail cherry (garnish)

Not a lot of surprises here. Pour the rye, vermouths, and bitters into a cocktail shaker and mixing glass. Shake or stir, and then strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Contemplate the millions of subtle variations possible when you combine liquids in differing proportions.

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Okay, so, like the Jumbo, the Horsecar is good for those who love Manhattans, but maybe sometimes find the standard version too high either in sweet vermouth or too heavy on the whiskey. The difference between the drinks is that the classic Jumbo calls for Peychaud’s bitters, which have an almost candy-like flavor, and the Horsecar calls for orange bitters, my  frequent personal choice when I’m making Perfect Manhattans. (I understand that you can also make Horsecars with Angostura-style aromatic bitters but, to be fair, that cocktail should probably be given it’s own name.)

My rye brands this time around were Rittenhouse, Old Overholt, Bulleit, and Alberta Dark Rye. My dry vermouths were Dolin’s and Martinis. My sweet vermouths were Martini, Vya, Carpano Antica, and, experimenting with a new brand, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino. The results were uniformly very nice, with floral and sweet qualities predominating. Probably the single most drinkable version contained Old Overholt — not really a personal favorite — Dolins and Carpano Antica. That version would have been the height of craft cocktail bar orthodoxy, except I shook it instead of stirring. Yes, it was clouded with ice crystals but it was also very easy on the palette without being boring.

I liked the Horsecar stirred as well. Those drinks were definitely a bit bolder in flavor, and could also be quite lovely. The only one that didn’t seem to work as well contained Alberta Dark Rye; it’s a brand I like quite a bit, but it’s a bit of a whiskey outlier and actually contains 1 percent sherry wine. Sometimes the dark horse really does come in last.

 

  

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Drink of the Week: The Imperfect Persimmon Flip

the Imperfect Persimmon Flip.If you don’t know a persimmon from a papaya, don’t feel too bad. I had not the vaguest idea of what the darn things tasted like until our in-house guinea pig here at Drink of the Week Manor brought in a gigantic box of the somewhat obscure fruit freshly picked by relatives.

Persimmons look a bit like the offspring of a tomato and a pumpkin, and taste something like an apple-pumpkin-mango hybrid; they’re pretty delicious. As they become over-ripe, they eventually develop an almost jam-like consistency and sweetness without actually rotting.

Of course, blessed with so much of this highly underrated fruit, my mind turned to cocktails. The few recipes I found online called for making persimmon purees, which flies in the face of my often stated goal of making all of these drinks something you can throw together in less than 10 minutes.

So, it was time me to get creative and whip up something simple of my own. The good news is that you don’t have to wait until your persimmon turns to jelly, all you need is a strong arm and a decent muddler, an egg, and a few basic cocktail ingredients to make yourself a really hearty, holiday season appropriate, dessert cocktail.

The Imperfect Persimmon Flip

1 1/2 ounces bourbon or rye whiskey
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1/2 small persimmon (i.e., a slice of about 1″ x 2″)
1 whole large egg
1/4 ounce agave syrup
2 dashes aromatic bitters

Thoroughly muddle the persimmon half/slice in the bottom of a cocktail shaker. Unless your persimmon is super-duper ripe, you’ll need an actual muddler and some substantial elbow grease to make sure you get it sufficiently juicy and mushy. Add the other ingredients and then dry shake it all without ice to make sure the whole egg emulsifies properly, giving the drink the milky-noggy consistency you want, not the slimy consistency people who have never had drinks with egg or egg white frequently fear. Make sure you keep a tight seal on the lid because the albumin in egg white can make the top of a shaker want to fly off.

Then, add plenty of ice and shake again, this time very vigorously and for no less than 10-15 seconds. Strain into a well chilled cocktail glass or, as pictured, a smallish rocks/old fashioned glass as shown above. You’ll want to use a Hawthorn strainer that will let some chunks of persimmon through. Although flips are traditionally topped with nutmeg, I think cinnamon works better on this drink.

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If you’re wondering about why I’m calling this the Imperfect Persimmon Flip, that’s easy. It’s a flip because it has a whole egg in it. It’s imperfect because I actually started out calling this the Perfect Persimmon Flip in that, like last week’s Perfect Cocktail, it originally featured both sweet and dry vermouth. When the dry/floral flavors clashed with the sweetness of the rest of the drink, I doubled down on the sweet vermouth and found myself with a much better drink, imperfect though it is.

Now for the brands, which can make a real difference here. As you can see in the picture, I started out with Maker’s Mark, one of the sweeter, gentler premium bourbons, and Martini, pretty much the default brand for vermouth. My aromatic bitters were Angostura, another default choice.

That earlier version was not one bit bad, nor was one using Martini and 100 proof Rittenhouse Rye. I have to admit, however, that this drink only really hit the stratosphere when I went with another line-up entirely: my freebie bottle of the notably less sweet and notably stronger Wild Turkey 101 bourbon, cocktailian-approved Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, and Fee Brothers’ friendlier aromatic. The almost chocolatey bitterness of Antica and the more astringent, assertive Wild Turkey emphasized the sweeter flavors and made for a holiday-time treat that, as my generous human guinea pig put it, looked and tasted something like a drinkable, cold, pumpkin pie.

  

Drink of the Week: Make Way for Amaro (TCM Fest Salute #1)

Make Way for Amaro. For the last four years or so I’ve had the privilege of attending the annual TCM Classic Film Festival. It’s been great and I’ve been able to cover it from a few different angles, both as a classic film loving cinephile and, last year especially, as a cinema-addled boozer.

This year, however, I’ve come up with a slightly different approach and will be covering the festival right from DOTW. For the next few weeks, rather than simply stealing drinks from elsewhere and trying them out myself as per usual, I’m going to be whipping up my own creations, all inspired by some of the amazing films I was lucky enough to see projected on the big screen in my native Hollywood. I’m not promising they’re all going to be cocktail classics. I’m not even necessarily promising they’ll be any good. I’m definitely not promising that they’ll be terribly original or unique. I am, however, reasonably certain that it’s a great excuse for me talk a little bit about a few remarkable movies.

I’m happy to say, the first drink of our series surprised me by turning out to be very drinkable indeed. In fact, I think I’ll have an easier time persuading many of you to try the drink that than to watch the film. That’s because, our selection is a tragicomic masterpiece about an elderly couple who are forced to separate by the behavior of their selfish, but all too understandable, adult children.

I know nothing I’m going to say that will persuade you that watching  Leo McCarey’s sneaky, awe-inspiring 15 hankie tragicomedy, “Make Way for Tomorrow,” goes down nearly as easily as this rather lively variation on the oldest of popular classic cocktails, but it’s that good a movie. The drink isn’t too terrible either.

Make Way for Amaro

2 ounces Rittenhouse Rye (100 proof)
1/2 ounce Amaro CioCiaro
2 teaspoons soda water or club soda
1 sugar cube
1 orange or grapefruit slice
Garnish with an additional slice of citrus twist

Muddle the sugar cube and citrus slice with the soda water in the bottom of a cocktail shaker. Add the Rittenhouse Rye and Amaro CioCiaro – one of a number of bittersweet Italian after-dinner liqueurs – and plenty of ice. Shake vigorously and strain into the smallest Tom Collins or Old Fashioned glass you can find. (The one in the picture is too big, but it did okay for me.) Toast your mom and your dad. In fact, if they’re alive, give them a call – before you have a second drink.

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Unless you’re a member of the Cinephile American community, you’ve probably never heard of Leo McCarey’s 1937 masterpiece. Though “Make Way for Tomorrow” has nearly as many well-earned laughs as tears – McCarey is legendary as a director of comedies like “The Awful Truth” and “Duck Soup” – it was a failure at the box-office. It could hardly have been a surpise. With subject matter like this, it would be a tough enough sell on today’s arthouse circuit.

Even so, the film takes a surprising and, at least temporarily, more upbeat turn at what might have been its most maudlin moment as the aged parents break free of their offspring and find themselves in the hotel where they enjoyed their honeymoon 50 years prior. A kindly manager suggests a cocktail and, despite that the fact that the Beulah Bondi character comes from an era when “nice” females never drank in public, they decide on “two Old Fashioneds, for two old-fashioned people.”

Aside from being the height of bittersweet comedic drama, the scene is interesting for cocktail geeks. The Old Fashioneds the couple enjoys actually look nothing like Old Fashioneds you’d get today. They are served in the kind of teeny-tiny glass that was once standard for cocktails – in this case a sort of mini-Tom Collins – and it’s not on the rocks. It’s presumably served up and with a long, spiral orange peel like you’d get in a classic Horse’s Neck.

Even so, I started out making this drink in the usual Old Fashioned fashion by building it in the glass and serving it on the rocks, but the results just didn’t come together. The amaro, which I’m using largely, though not entirely, in the place of the bitters, just kind of held the drink down. Shaking it and serving it in a chilled glass, however, added the kind of lightness to the drink that brought the whole thing together. It’s a bit glib to compare shaking a cocktail to the ample humor in an essentially tragic film, but it really did kind of feel and taste that way.

Finally, though I usually try to make my drinks as non brand-specific as I can, it’s hard enough to come up with a new cocktail in three days if you’re not an absolute souse and have a day job. I will say that I leaned towards the oldest school brands I could.  I went with rye instead of bourbon, and the wondrous Rittenhouse Bottled in Bond over a fancier newer brand because it’s just possible that that’s what Beulah Bondi and Victor Moore might have been served way back in 1937. Like the movie, you might be surprised but it packs at least as much of a punch today as it must have 77 years back.

Don’t believe me? See for yourself and watch the whole movie right here. I guess modern ways aren’t entirely for the birds.

  

Drink of the Week: The PAMA & Rye

The PAMA & Rye

I’m of the opinion that no two sets of taste buds are precisely the same. For example, to me, saccharin-derived artificial sweeteners (the ones in the pink packages) have a disgusting, nastily bitter aftertaste, but I’ve talked to any number of people to whom the stuff tastes okay in a cup of coffee. On the other hand, I kind of love the harsh bitter edge of Campari, especially as it follows a burst of real sugary sweetness. All some folks can seem to taste is the bitterness and they don’t like it one bit.

On yet another hand, I think tartness might hit my tongue a bit harder than some folks. Long time readers will note my very mild, yet  incessant, whinging about alleged over-tartness on a number of cocktail classics we’ve covered — the Whiskey Sour comes to mind. Therefore, I guess it’s no surprise that — while I always love getting a free bottle of anything non-explosive in the mail — I’m okay with but not quite a sucker for the extra-large bottle of PAMA Pomegranate Flavored Liqueur that a kind soul sent my way.

I like pomegranates and I’m sure those who enjoy tartness may thoroughly enjoy this relatively low-alcohol product straight up on the rocks. Another product from the fine, Kentucky-based Heaven Hill family of beverages, PAMA is what it is, as the annoying saying goes. Not too gussied up and entirely respectable, but not quite my personal thing.

On the other hand, the magic of cocktails being what it is, I’m sure there’s more than one drink in which I’d truly enjoy using PAMA in all its all caps glory. I had to alter this one slightly to make it work for me, but I do dig it. I’ll give you the scoop on the original version, developed by New York mixologist Eben Freeman, after my very slightly adulterated take.

The PAMA & Rye

1 once PAMA Pomegranite Liqueur
1 ounce high proof rye whiskey
1 ounce fresh squeezed orange juice
1/2 ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon superfine sugar
1 orange wheel (i.e. thin slice of orange) as garnish, desirable but not essential

Combine all the liquid ingredients in a cocktail shaker, without ice. Add the superfine sugar and stir to quickly dissolve. Now, add plenty of ice and shake vigorously. Pour over new ice and your orange wheel garnish into a rocks/old fashioned glass. Sip with an open mind.

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For my rye, I used the recently featured new Knob Creek 100 proof, but I’d be shocked if the similarly strong, very good, and significantly cheaper Rittenhouse Rye didn’t work about as well or maybe even better. I’m not as sure whether a mere 90 proofer, like Sazerac, would work as well, but I certainly wouldn’t blame you for trying it.

Now, Eben Freeman’s original version of this drink featured half an ounce of simple syrup instead of the three teaspons/one tablespoon of superfine sugar I suggested. Although I often substitute the cheaper/easier and more or less identical — minus the water, of course — superfine sugar for syrup, I happened to have some cane syrup I bought on sale on hand, so I made my first version of this drink as directed. For me, it was, well, too tart — though, I add, no more tart than a typical whiskey sour you’d get from a good bartender.

The good news for me was that upping the sugar proportion very slightly really did the trick. Half an ounce of the syrup I was using contained 40 calories, and a tablespoon of sugar contains 48 calories. So, subtracting a tiny amount of water and adding only eight calories worth of sugar really made all the difference for me. Still, if you love tartness, you’ll definitely want to go the Freeman way. (And you’ll need to buy a bottle of PAMA, too.)

  

Drink of the Week: The Cliquet

The CliquetIn French, “Cliquet” literally means ratchet but can also refer to something that’s looks an awful lot like a screwdriver to this highly un-handy man. Well, the cocktail called the Cliquet looks an awful lot like the orange juice and vodka highball we all know. Let me tell you, though, appearances can be highly deceptive.

The Cliquet is a somewhat mysterious classic. While the exact derivation of the name remains apparently unknown, it’s a perfect summertime drink and about as easy to make as anything you can honestly call a cocktail. After finding it to be all but indestructible through a number of iterations, I’m honestly a bit surprised that this drink isn’t as well known as it’s Anglicized screwdriving cousin. It’s also one of the very few decent cocktails that can actually travel easily in a thermos or other container, but more about that below.

The Cliquet

2 ounces rye, bourbon, or Scotch whiskey
4 ounces orange juice (fresh squeezed or “not from concentrate”)
1 teaspoon dark rum

Build your drink in an old fashioned or a Tom Collins glass. Combine ingredients with plenty of ice. Stir. Drink — no need to toast anyone special with this one, just enjoy it.

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There was a time in my life when a screwdriver was one of my go-to drink order when I couldn’t think of anything else to ask for. Had I only known that switching out the vodka for whiskey and adding a tiny amount of dark rum could have made such a difference, I’d probably have developed my interest in good cocktails a bit earlier in life. I really am learning to love this drink.

One of the things that’s most lovable about the Cliquet is how easy it is to make and serve. While I enjoyed the versions featuring the fresh juice I personally squeezed from good ol’ California Valencia oranges — which were actually developed just miles south of the current address of Drink of the Week Central — I later found that I got results that were very nearly as good, and somewhat more reliable, using a decent brand of store bought OJ.

That ease of creation proved to be a godsend when I needed an easily portable beverage to bring to the annual Drive-in-Movie outing hosted by world famous film blogger Dennis Cozzalio of the legendary cinephile blog, Sergio Leone and the In-Field Fly Rule. I had hoped to bring the fresh squeezed Cliquet, but simply didn’t have time to squeeze out umpteen oranges. I was delighted to discover that it almost didn’t matter and was pleased to see that I was correct in that the ingredients could be easily premixed and then poured over ice on site into a plastic cup without losing its appeal. At least that’s what Dennis and I thought.

A few words about non-orange juice ingredients. As you might expect, using my beloved 100 proof Rittenhouse Rye yielded a slightly kickier concoction, while 90 proof Buffalo Trace bourbon yields sweeter, though not much less punchy results. My mom’s caregivers — and if anyone can use a drink, these hardworking ladies certainly can — seemed to prefer the version I made with some of my very nice 10-year old Glenrothes single malt Scotch. At 80 proof, I think they found to be a bit less threatening and somewhat smoother than the rye-laden version I brazenly tried out on them previously.

You should definitely feel free to experiment with different proportions. Indeed, mega-cocktail guru David Wondrich’s recipe simply calls for “a small orange juice,” whatever that may mean. Many recipes call for an almost as vague “juice of one orange” and a slightly smaller amount of booze. In any case, there’s no reason not to, yes, ratchet the quantities up and down a bit.

Wondrich also considers the Cliquet mostly appropriate for brunch, but not so much for other times. I’ll have to try actually having a Cliquet before noon on my next big vacation or small lost weekend. I have chosen an occasionally dangerous hobby, I fear.

  

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